Winnipeg town hall with PM touches on education, immigration, environment

Written by Keila DePape and photographed by Cody Zaporzan

Inside the packed town hall at the University of Manitoba Investors Group Athletic Centre, Trudeau answered about 25 questions, promising to follow up with several of them.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a town hall at the University of Manitoba on Wednesday, Jan. 31 — about 1,800 people attended. CODY ZAPORZAN / THE PROJECTOR

A woman waving an LGBTQ* flag implored Trudeau to “put his rainbow socks on again” and stop the deportation of Nigerians who face persecution in their home country.

“I promise you, the Minister of Immigration will take a look at that specific case,” he said.

That response, like many others, was met with roaring cheers from the crowd.

A Somali immigrant then shared her story, saying Child and Family Services took her child away in Canada.

“Unfortunately, it’s a story that happens too often,” said Trudeau. “We will try to look into it,” adding he couldn’t comment on specific cases.

A Somali couple emphatically asks Trudeau a question about Child and Family Services. CODY ZAPORZAN / THE PROJECTOR

Over the near two-hour town hall, Trudeau let every question be asked in full before responding—even if the audience didn’t do the same.

Several hecklers escorted out

A young boy asking about endangered native species was cut off by a heckler shouting at Trudeau about the Kinder Morgan pipeline.

“I will come to you next ma’am,” said Trudeau. “Dialogue works when we actually chat,” he said as security led her from the room.

Security escorted several more hecklers from the room during the night.

But many who interrupted still got the chance to speak.

Controversy over Canada Summer Jobs

One attendee shouted concerns about the Canada Student Jobs program, saying they believe it discriminates against religious employers.

The federal government recently added a new condition to the program, which helps employers subsidize costs of hiring students for summer work.

The condition states applicants must have a core mandate to respect human rights, including reproductive rights

Trudeau made an example of the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, a formerly government funded group that mailed out graphic images of aborted fetuses.

“There are certain groups that are specifically dedicated to fighting abortion rights for women, and that is horrible,” he said, prompting some of the loudest applause of the night.

Indigenous Issues front and centre

Members of the crowd raise their hands to ask questions at the town hall. CODY ZAPORZAN / THE PROJECTOR

While many questions focused on national issues or personal turmoil, others hit close to home in Manitoba.

One question asked how the federal government planned to measure the success of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.

Wednesday marked day three of the murder trial for Tina Fontaine, the 15-year-old girl whose body was pulled from the Red River in 2014 and whose story sparked renewed calls for an inquiry.

In response, Trudeau spoke of providing closure to families and taking steps to improve safety on the Highway of Tears.

“All we can do is give families a space to heal,” he said. “…and certainly make changes to the systems and processes that have failed these women.”

Defending pipeline plans

Criticism about Indigenous engagement carried to a conversation about the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline.

Trudeau has committed to making sure the east/west oil pipeline gets built in B.C.

“There are voices in B.C. that have stood against the pipeline. But there are also voices in B.C that have stood for that pipeline,” he said.

“I grew up on that coast. If I thought there was a danger to beautiful British Columbia’s coasts, we would not have approved the Kinder Morgan pipeline.”

Not everyone in the stands applauded.

“It was very diplomatic, but I don’t think it was enough,” said Kevin Toews, 26. “I am a Liberal, I do like him (Trudeau), but the fact is drilling is going to exponentially destroy this planet.”

Cannabis advocate speaks up

Local cannabis advocate Steven Stairs took aim at Trudeau for not pardoning people convicted of trafficking cannabis.

“The system is broken,” said Trudeau in response, quoting data he says proves Canada is the easiest place in the developed world for underage teens to buy cannabis.

“And yes, I said I’d look at that after the law was changed.”

But Stairs’ question was two-fold.

“There’s a strain of cannabis now called ‘Justin True-Dope.’ How do you feel about that?” he asked.

To that, the Prime Minister had no answer.